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Steve Mann of SAP on social media

Social media is taking off, and marketers are sitting up and taking notice. Small companies have stolen most of the headlines with viral marketing, possibly because small businesses are always looking out for something effective and free. But big companies are working on social media, too. Check out this interview with Steve Mann, Social Media Strategist & Customer Experience Evangelist and business software giant SAP, and author of the popular AbleBrains blog.

Me: Can you describe your role at SAP? Working on social media certainly seems exciting.
SM: SAP has a deep conversational history with our customers and partners. While it hasn’t always been visible, the tools of social media are helping us expose those conversations as well as uncovering new ways to deepen those conversations. Our SDN (SAP Developer Network) and BPX (Business Process Expert) Communities have over one million members today; and these are just two of our most visible communities, together with our Industry value networks and the enterprise services communities.
We want to leverage and build on that great success to create a social media strategy to help drive our marketing efforts, so that we can enjoy greater intimacy and engagement between SAP and our customers. These conversations in turn will promote greater customer loyalty. At the end of the day, the experience a customer has with SAP is a critical competitive differentiator for the company. We believe that the appropriate application of Social Media and Social Networking can enhance that customer experience and deepen the already strong relationships we have with them. In essence, we want to develop an extensive business-to-business social graph for SAP.
To do this, we are focused on developing a business-aligned social media strategy. That is to say, talking to key internal stakeholders who lead various functional groups and developing a strategy on how to leverage social media in a way that drives the business forward and clearly ties to both current SAP business objectives and to market needs—now and and in the future. And we are talking to customers, because no customer-centric strategy can be developed without their input. We are focused on the marketing function primarily but since Social Media by its very nature spans the chasm between functional groups we need to align this strategy with what is planned from a corporate communications, product development, field sales and marketing and service and support perspective. We all have a vested interest in doing this well.
Me: What kind of challenges have you run into at a large company when introducing such new marketing tactics? Can you relate an anecdote or two of situations you had to work through?
SM: Well, its too early to provide anecdotes as we are in the preliminary stages of this strategy formulation process but I can say this relative to your first question about challenges. Change management is always a top of mind issue when it comes to broad implementations of strategy. So having a detailed communications and change management plan in place is critical.
Me: How do you get SAP customers to pass your message along? How do you get SAP marketers to be willing to change the way they do messaging so that customers might pass it along?
SM: It’s my personal opinion and I may be wrong about this but the notion of message control is largely a myth. I think that enterprises can shape a position for conversation initially but then what happens to it once its in the market is up to those participating in the conversation. But that’s the beauty of Social Media isn’t it? Once the conversation has begun, we have the opportunity to join in, provide our perspective, as well as listen to perspectives of others. In that way we can refine our conversational approach to be more impactful for our target markets. It’s become a conversational economy and if you are not in the conversation you’ll be left behind. To me, it’s not about passing “the message” along, its about getting out there, being transparent and having conversations with your customers, your partners and your critics. How else can we get better if we don’t receive and act on feedback?
We don’t have to get marketers to change their discussion strategies—what we need is to become more conversational in our storytelling. SAP marketers and communication professionals get it. They understand the value that a conversational dynamic has in Influence and in funnel conversion. Trusted referral marketing in a 1:1 model is very powerful. And Social Media enables that type of marketing. Imagine when a potential customer talks to an existing customer and that customer has an open honest conversation about SAP and recommends us to them. There’s no more powerful way to promote your products and services. This is what we are after. This is what we will accomplish.
Me: What have been your biggest successes in new marketing tactics at SAP?
A few big things:

  • I’d say the SDN and BPX communities.
  • Our world class Blogger Relations program which we started back in 2005 is a model for the rest of the High Tech Industry.
  • The smart integration of search into our overall marketing campaign strategy is something that we’ve derived a lot of value from. From a personal perspective, I’m very proud of the attitudinal segmentation work we’ve done to truly understand our buyers from a needs, attitudes and behaviors perspective.

Me: Have you gotten traditional marketers to adapt to social media?
SM: Yes. The fact that we are engaged in this project and that the company up and down the line is extremely interested in Web 2.0 no matter the line of business is a testament to that interest. We all know that these tools are fast becoming mainstream and we are adapting to leverage these new tools.
Me: What are the best tips you’d give other corporate marketers when dealing with an organization that doesn’t always take new marketing ideas seriously?
SM: Look to your ecosystem, both internal and external. I guarantee you that you will find some sort of grass roots Social Media implementation in a variety of functional areas. That’s what we found at SAP. Folks were implementing Social Media all over the place. Really good work as well, like Harmony—our internal Social Network—or—a blog aggregation site focused on SMBs and sponsored by SAP. Build on those grass roots projects and use them to demonstrate the effectiveness of Web 2.0 in your business strategies.
Me: Do you find that the kind of feedback that Web 2.0 provides is being taken seriously in a large corporation? Do you find that decisions are being made differently based on not only how the analysts or the media will react, but how customers on blogs, message boards, and other places will respond in public?
SM: I think whether a company takes feedback seriously depends on its corporate culture. Corporate culture is very difficult to change and companies that don’t readily engage with the market for feedback will have problems adapting to the tremendous amount of information both wanted and unwanted that Web 2.0 delivers. SAP falls into the “gimme more” category. We have numerous Voice of the Customer initiatives and engage with our customers to co-create and co-innovate on products, services and content. To us, Web 2.0 is an enabler to a strategy which is already in place.
Me: Thanks, Steve for sharing this perspective on social media with my readers.

Mike Moran

Mike Moran is a Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also served as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website,, most recently as the Manager of Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He was a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research and is now a Senior Fellow of The Conference Board. A Certified Speaking Professional, Mike regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide

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